BY VICKI BROWN
On Saturday, January 15th, local hunters and property owners were invited to gather at Coastal Electric to voice their concerns regarding hunting with dogs and a recent county ordinance.
The event was organized by Gar Linder, a Colleton resident and community activist who said he wanted to make sure that dog hunters and property owners had the correct information.
In all, more than 200 hunters came together with one united voice, signing a survey asking Colleton County Council not to make changes to the current ordinance.
The meeting, and the overall discussion, was spawned by potential changes to a county ordinance that could fine dog hunters when their dogs roam onto private property. According to Colleton County Council documents, discussion about potentially changing the county’s existing ordinance, which exempts hunting dogs from being considered “at large” or roaming, began when a council member was contacted by an official with the S.C. Department of Natural Resources (SCDNR), who said that the county’s current ordinance was significantly inhibiting the state agency from giving citations to some Colleton County dog hunters whose dogs were running a deer and crossed onto private property. In these cases involving SCDNR, the private landowner contacted SCDNR to complain about the roaming animals being on their property.
Potential changes to Colleton’s existing ordinance were initiated to resolve these issues between dog hunters and landowners. Still, the new ordinance only had one reading before it was tabled: the ordinance was tabled, or put on hold, after numerous citizens contacted council members complaining about the wording.
Then, in recent weeks, Colleton residents Gar Linder, Adam Spooner, Justin Miller, and other hunting advocates came together to discuss what could be done and prevent the ordinance from recurring. The plan was to bring Colleton landowners and hunters together to solve the problem. Unfortunately, no county councilmen came, and only one landowner showed up and promptly left, leaving more than 200 hunters to voice their opinion on the issue.
“I was disappointed that landowners didn’t come, and I was hoping for some reconciliation and understanding between everyone,” said Linder. Linder said he is hopeful that a future town hall meeting will help settle the issue.
“We all need to hear each other and come to some agreements that suit everyone. It is possible if we meet and talk,” he said.
Saturday’s community meeting
While dog-hunters are aware of the rights of landowners, many hunters feel that dogs do so minor damage that preserving a Southern tradition is essential.
According to hunters, they just run through a property chasing a deer, scaring up game, or retrieving a bird.
But in some cases, property owners are losing money and say they are caused unnecessary aggravation by dogs crossing onto their property.
Some hunters, however, say they are finding that some property owners are being petty and are deliberately setting up hunters for hefty fines. At Saturday’s community meeting, one Colleton resident said he had recently received a ticket from SCDNR.
“I saw the property line marked on a tree, so I called my dogs back. They are so highly trained they will go to the truck and load themselves. Seven dogs returned, but one did not. The property owner captured it and held it to call DNR. I was fined, went to appeal, and was not heard but just told that I was guilty and fined. That property owner took my dog. Isn’t that theft?”
Previously, Colleton resident Randy Coulter said he and his hunting club had never had issues hunting on their preserve until an individual moved into a neighboring property.
“I watched my dogs on GPS. When I saw them near the property lines, I toned them. They stopped. But the property owner took the dogs, penned them up, and called SCDNR. He had to have gathered up the stopped dogs at the property line and taken them to a pen on his property. Why would anyone do that?” asked Coulter.
“A few bad hunters give us a bad name. We try to do the right thing every time, and we spend thousands of dollars to try to make sure our dogs stay off other property,” added Coulter. “But my problem is when someone buys a property that butts up against hunting club property and then wants to change the law to fit them personally instead of understanding the local culture, speaking with us, and working out a solution.”
He added that while fencing may help in most cases, there are some areas, like swamps, where dogs can roam, and fences can’t be installed.
Kenneth Delee, a Navy veteran, has been hunting since he was 11 years old. “My family has hunted on our land and hunt club for generations. But someone from out of town moved in nearby and has made an issue of it. We would love to have an open dialogue with the new owners and explain what we do, but they have not been receptive so far,” said Delee.
David Magwood, Jr. is another Colleton hunter who agrees that dialogue is needed, but Magwood wants people to understand that the sport helps the economy.
“Hunting is a great sport and something we love doing. It brings a lot of money into this county, and people need to remember that,” said Magwood.
According to Michelle Benton of Benton’s Feed and Seed, hunting with dogs keeps her business going strong.
“Just from dog food alone, about 60 percent of my business income would be affected. I would have to let employees go if this ordinance was passed,” said Benton.
Other people spoke up and said that millions of dollars come into Colleton County because of the sport of hunting.
According to American Whitetail magazine, only 11 states permit dog hunting, and South Carolina has the most permissive dog-hunting regulations in the U.S.
Nina Burke of the Lowcountry Hunt with Foxhounds also attended the Saturday meeting.
“We have 70 members who hunt with hounds. We support the local feed stores, and we get our supplies locally. Right now, we have a hunt going on with 87 horses registered, innumerable hounds, and 135 people from nine states here in town to hunt,” she said. “That means a lot of dollars coming into the county from hunters, and Lowcountry Hunt is behind the dog-hunters 100 percent.”
A representative from Sen. Timothy Scott’s office, Al Jenkins, also spoke at the event and said that the senator had the ear of local hunters. He listened to their concerns, and they had a voice through him.
Mike Colson next spoke to the crowd and recalled how he had learned to hunt when he was a child. “Hunting teaches children to respect wildlife and animals and work as a team. We teach them how to communicate with each other and take care of animals. It gets kids away from video gaming and the TV and outdoors for exercise as they follow the dogs. Dog hunting is a great sport for kids. Hunting keeps kids off the streets and out into nature. This is a process that people who don’t hunt don’t understand. We socialize and work as a team. But we need to watch out for each other and for those hunters who are not responsible people,” said Colson.
Colleton County Council has not yet rescheduled this issue on its agenda. No public hearing organized by the county council on this issue has been scheduled yet.
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